Review of My New Computer Equipment

I recently changed out just about all of my computer equipment. Nothing dramatic like #davegoeswindows, but all new gear within my relative comfort-zone. It was the first time since late 2013, and now it’s going on 2017, so I figured it was time.

No surprise: I’m an Apple guy. I have been for a couple of decades now. I was pretty excited about the new MacBook Pro’s and ordered one within a few days of them coming out. Coinciding with all that, I’ve also changed out my mouse, keyboard, and monitor. None of those accessories are Apple. Partly because they’ve stopped making them (monitors), or the ones they do make kind of suck (mice, keyboards).

I figured I’d review my new setup since it’s on my mind.

15-inch MacBook Pro

Like I said, I hadn’t upgraded in three years. I’d like to get another three years or more out of this one, so I went kinda all-out on the specs.

  • Upgraded to 2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor
  • Upgraded to 2TB PCIe-based SSD
  • Upgraded to Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB memory

I wanted to feel something, dammit.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about it. It’s fine. It doesn’t feel all that different from my 2013 MacBook Pro.

It doesn’t feel all that much faster. It doesn’t start up any quicker and has a weird quirk where the screen gets all distorted and then goes all black except for the start up progress bar. It doesn’t seem to last on a charge any longer. Transferring data to it from a Time Capsule was rough, as it did about 90% of it over 12 hours before failing and being unable to continue. It’s worst characteristic is that it freezes with more frequency than my last laptop.

I think the Touch Bar is fun, but it doesn’t affect my productivity or do anything mind-blowingly useful. I do enjoy Touch ID instead of having to type a password sometimes. I’ve had the Touch Bar freeze on me a few times, though, which hurt productivity, because as expected, it’s a little annoying not having that escape key. Seems to me the Touch Bar could still be there even if there was a hardware escape key on the upper left. Or at least allows some way to restart the Touch Bar. Ascii shrug.

LG Electronics WQHD IPS Curved 34-Inch LED-Lit Monitor

My monitor was actually the first thing I replaced. My Cinema Display was exhibiting bad behavior. It would just go black randomly, and require lots of fidgeting with the connector to get it to come back, which became untenable.

I went with one of those super wide 21:9 34″ LG monitors. Specifically: LG Electronics WQHD IPS Curved 34-Inch LED-Lit Monitor (34UC97-S). At the time I bought it, I just found one for sale and bought it, not realizing LG sold 19 different versions of it. 😳. It works of course, but I still don’t know if I bought the best one for me.

Thoughts:

  • I got a curved one, which feels like a cheezy gimmick. I’d prefer a non-curved one, especially considering they are less expensive.
  • It’s far less vibrant and bright than the Cinema Display was, or the laptop screen. It feels a bit dingy.
  • I don’t like having hardware controls for adjusting the look of the screen. I can change a single setting, like the “Color Temp”, and have it be drastically different. It makes me think there is no possible way I have all these settings exactly correct, especially in conjunction with the color profiles settable through System Preferences.
  • It’s a 1x display. I think I’m ready to leave those days behind.
  • It has built-in speakers (not very good), which at least don’t require any additional cables since it connects via HDMI.
  • The new laptop, of course, doesn’t have HDMI, so it actually connects via dongle. It’s an obnoxious dongle too, the “Multiport Adapter”, which is the only one Apple sells that has HDMI on it. I figured that was the one to trust, but in a not-so-shocking twist, I gave a presentation through a projector the other day that was also HDMI, and the Apple dongle didn’t work with it. They happened to have a cheap-looking third-party USB-C to HDMI dongle, and it worked great.
  • It does not have a camera or microphone. So, because I need that for video conferencing, I had to get a Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920. That’s USB, so it has to go into my USB 3.0 hub. I was looking forward to this, thinking a highly-rated third-party add-on camera would be an upgrade. Sadly I don’t think it’s as nice of quality as the old built-in iSight.
  • I get that “banding” effect fairly often. Apparently, these super wide monitors are essentially two monitors seamlessly aligned next to each other. Although seamlessly is the wrong word, as you can see the seam if you, for example, put a web browser right in the middle and scroll down. You’ll see one side scrolling faster than the other. It doesn’t happen all the time, and unplugging-and-plugging-back-in seems to solve it most of the time.
  • The 21:9 size is pretty nice. I could see using one even a bit bigger. At first, I was leaving my laptop open as well, but I’ve stopped doing that. I think I prefer just looking straight at one monitor rather than kinda sideways at two. Plus, it might just be in my head, but I feel like I get better performance generally with the laptop closed. I do wish I could just plugin in the monitor into a closed laptop and have it wake up, but I find I have to open the laptop to wake up, then close it again once the monitor has kicked on.
  • The huge weird size of it does make screen sharing with other folks a little awkward. Fortunately, most screen sharing software allows you to just share one window.

Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard

I was almost more excited about the Microsoft Surface Ergonomic Keyboard (Amazon.com, Microsoft.com) than I was about the laptop. It’s an evolution of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard (which only had a detached number pad and was wireless-only), which was an evolution of the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 (bulky, wired-only).

I mean just look at this beauty:

The handrest looks like it fabric in the photos. It’s not really fabric. It’s kind of a foamy rubber. It’s still very nice, and probably good that it’s not actually fabric.

It even had an Apple-like hype video:

It’s straight up beautiful. The nicest looking keyboard I’ve ever owned. It’s just as nice in real life. It’s comfortable. They keys are low-profile but not too-low-profile, and nice springy. The shape and feel is really nice.

Thoughts:

  • I don’t love that it is Bluetooth only. I have a theory that my body gives off Bluetooth obstructing rays. Bluetooth never works flawlessly for me, and this keyboard is no exception. Several times I’ve had to go through the whole pairing process again since the connection seemed entirely forgotten.
  • When there is Bluetooth trouble, I also wonder about battery strength. It uses AAA batteries. It comes with “alkaline” batteries and claims up to 12 months of battery life. I had to replace them once, or at least I thought I had to because of connection trouble. I’m not entirely clear on what the best possible battery is for a device like this, so I bought the expensive lithium ones. They seem to be working, but maybe they are the cause of connection pains? There also seems to be no way to check the battery level.
  • The most pronounced problem with they keyboard is that it falls asleep. If you leave it alone for even a few minutes, it loses active connection. You can’t just start typing, as you’ll lose whatever you type. You need to press a key, wait a few seconds, then start typing. It doesn’t try to catch up with whatever you’ve started typing.
  • I’m so damn torn. I’m trying to get over my dislike of Bluetooth because it sure is nice not having so many wires around. On the other hand, if they just sold a wired version of it, it would solve all these problems and be just about a perfect keyboard.
  • Many reviews complain there is no backlighting. I don’t care about that.

I miiiight end up going back to the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 just because it’s wired and I get tired to smurfing around with wireless.

Key mapping

There aren’t many third-party keyboards that are Mac-specific. They don’t need to be because for the most part they work fine on Macs. But if want your keyboard to feel similar to the keyboard on the laptop itself, in regards to modifier key position, you’ll need to remap them. Specifically, putting the command key next to the spacebar.

Normally, you can do this right in System Settings:

You can change the settings here normally, but that doesn’t work on this keyboard.

Like the caption says, this doesn’t work with this keyboard. I hear this is just a “Bluetooth keyboard” thing, not specific to this keyboard. Still a bummer.

Fortunately, Karabiner-Elements handles the remapping just fine.

I’ve heard serious warnings from friends about Karabiner (like: YOU WILL HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THIS), but so far so good for me.

Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse

For a long time, I was a ball-mouse guy. I was totally in love with the Kensington Expert Trackball Mouse. I forced myself to stop using it a few years ago. I was so attached to using it that anything else felt very awkward. It wasn’t very practical to travel with, so if I opted not to bring it, I was in awkwardville until I got home. That was no good. For practicality, I switched to “normal” mice when at my desk, and went full-trackpad when traveling. The transition is complete, and now I’m all good with that.

I’ve long chosen wired mice, because as I mentioned, I think my body gives off anti-Bluetooth rays. Some mice have little USB dongle things, which are better but are extremely easy to lose.

My wired mouse, for years, was the Logitech Corded Mouse (M500), which is a perfectly decent inexpensive mouse.

I decided to go for the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse though, because:

  • My current wired mouse was acting up. It didn’t seem to track or scroll very nicely anymore.
  • The new keyboard is wireless, so I thought I’d take a crack at going full wireless.
  • I figured I could go for a kind of “premium”, well-reviewed mouse since I really wanted a mouse that would track and scroll smoothly.

The verdict:

  • It works either with Bluetooth or a dongle. I use the dongle because I trust it more, and it seems to be more reliable. I don’t have the near the connectivity issues I do with the keyboard.
  • I just leave the dongle in a USB 3.0 hub I’m still using. I wonder if I should get a better hub. This Arc Hub looks nice.
  • Sometimes it’s super smooth, sometimes it all goes to crap. Tracking is choppy. Scrolling is choppy. It doesn’t seem to be logical when it happens. I worry about the USB dongle: it’s in a USB 3.0 Hub, which is connected via yet another dongle to the USB-C port. I wonder if that bottlenecks somehow.

The software for configuring the mouse on macOS is pretty nice. I have mine customized to make good use of Spaces.

It’s tempting to go back to a corded mouse, but none are as well-reviewed as this one is and I already know the corded mouse I have isn’t any better.

More Thoughts

  • I’m a little bummed that there isn’t a single piece of computer equipment I’m currently using that I actually really love. Every single thing has problems. Fortunately, none of those problems are bad enough to hurt productivity too badly. Although as I say that, as I woke up this morning to publish this blog post, the laptop froze while plugging in the monitor. After restarting, the keyboard wouldn’t connect until I jiggled the batteries, and mouse was choppy until I unplugged/replugged the hub. ☹️. Update: froze everything again fiddling with some monitor settings.
  • It’s tempting to go back to a fully wired setup. I didn’t mention this above, but I went for Bluetooth headphones as well, but I find myself using my wired ones more often because I’m afraid I’ll be in the middle of a podcast or something and have them drop off because of my anti-Bluetooth rays (it happens). For the love of god, I just want smooth, fast accessories. I want them to work the instant I start using them and never fail. It’s actually a little tempting to get rid of all the accessories and just use only the laptop.
  • I wish Apple would make a monitor again. I really liked the Cinema Displays.
  • It seems like Apple is really pushing the LG UltraFine 5K Display. It’s about the same price as a Cinema Display was, at $ 974. It’s USB-C, so not needing a dongle would be nice, plus it charges the laptop, so that frees up an additional port. Plus, it’s a USB-C hub. Plus, it’s got a built-in camera and mic. Most importantly, it looks like a huge and beautiful pixel-dense display. Crap I think I just talked myself into it. Buy my book, lol.

Review of My New Computer Equipment is a post from CSS-Tricks

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